Does anyone even know what CNN stands for? I don't! It has become such a common initialism that it is recognized immediately and everyone knows what it is. And who bothers writing out the words e-mail, TV, ASAP or FYI when everyone will know what you mean anyway?
I recently received an e-newsletter from Jane Watson regarding Acronyms and Initialisms, which I thought was timely and wanted to share with you. Each organization we work for will have their own acronyms that we have to get familiar with fairly quickly if you want to know what they are talking about. Depending on how acronym happy your office is, it can be like learning a new language. Just when I think I am starting to understand my new office's language they throw in a new one that I have never heard of before. Back to the drawing board...
Coming from a legal background, we were always taught if you are using an acronym or initialism in writing, on the first use you should spell it out and then put the acronym in brackets, which makes a lot of sense and saves a lot of head scratching and searching the document to figure out what the person is referring to. After the first use, then you can feel free to use the acronym throughout the document.
We do get used to our acronyms however and they become words to us and sometimes forget that others may not understand. Take for instance on my first day in my new job, these were the acronyms that were being tossed about in conversations at a meeting where I was taking minutes: DOCAS, DRE, LHINS, NAGWD, OCRI and DAC to name a few and these of course are all pronounced as words. I didn't have a clue what they were talking about and at first thought I had landed on another planet. Not to mention the initialisms such as CIHR, ORCC, OHRI and even in the news WHO, H1N1 and SARS. It can get confusing.
I appreciated Ms. Watson's distinction between acronyms and initialisms. It certainly made it clearer to me. Speaking of initialisms, have you noticed that in many offices, in the e-mail salutation, they refer to people either by their first initial or first and last initial, i.e. Hi P or Hi PR. I refuse to use it because it makes e-mail even more impersonal than it already is and as a new person, sometimes it is hard to figure out who C is if they are only referred to in a sentence. Ugh!
I suppose we better get used to it as it seems to be a trend and start to learn the language of acronyms and initialisms. In our own correspondence however, try to use the person's first name in an e-mail and in a letter consider your audience and spell out your shortforms on the first use. It will make life easier on the receiving end as the end goal of speaking and writing is still to be understood by our audience.